The interweb: IA with a low S/N

The interweb

It used to be called the internet. That was before http, when it was ftp, smtp, nntp, uucp, telnet and gopher. It used to require certain skills and access to play on the internet. It was hard to put information into the internet, and it was hard to find and extract.

It was an arcane, select group, but it was still a cross-section of humanity. It had its philosopher, warriors, librarians, gamers, hacks, idiots and assholes. Just like it does now, although I think the proportions have changed.  The skills and access required did bias things towards the technical and educated. That tended to raise the intelligence level, but social skills lie on a whole other scale.

I think the key aspect was that it was small. And that information was a precious resource that cost something (time, knowledge, access).

Then, in the 80s, IBM and Apple put computers in the hands of the general population. The cost of participating in this interesting network of different information resources dropped as the means became increasingly available. It still took some wizardry, and it still cost something, but the information age had arrived. No longer a need for a personal copy of the information in, say, a dictionary; you can just use a common resource at will.

In the 90s, along comes http and HTML, and it collides head on with computers grown up enough that any child can use them (often far better than their befuddled parents). The collision is explosive, and within a handful of years, URLs are a common sight (or perhaps “site” would be appropriate in this case). The child of this collision is called “the web.” Just about everyone gets a website (I got my first website in the late 90s, didn’t you?).

A decade later many commercial ventures all but assume you have web access. Amazon, MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, eBay, Wikipedia, Blogging, Twitter; these are the names of world-wide giants. Names unknown ten years prior.

It’s become trivially easy to write information into the interweb, and it’s become trivially easy to search for information. The exciting part is that some of the information is reliable and based on reality and some of it is opinion and guesswork.

You get to figure out which is which.

How you do that determines who you are and how you see the world.  It’s important to get it right. Or at least get it in such a way that you get the desired result. (You get to figure that out, too. What result do you want?)

The interweb offers the flip side of AI; Artificial Intelligence, a machine that has its own machine intelligence. The interweb offers IA; Intelligence Augmentation, using machines to extend your intelligence. You can carry access to a vast world of information around in your pocket.

The problem is the low S/N; Signal to Noise ratio. The signal is plenty strong and rich; so is the noise. A complication is that some prefer the noise. Or, rather, they define signal differently from you.

Or, it sometimes seems, from common sense.

The active interweb has increasingly become a vast river, deep and fast. Information–most of it useless, or at least ephemeral– zips past at an enormous rate. Both the speed by which it passes and the amount are staggering. Saving interesting links for later review becomes pointless, because each day, each hour, brings a dozen new ones equally worth saving.

Hence the phrase, “Drowning in information, starving for knowledge.”

As with all powerful tools–chainsaws, for instance–there’s a way that builds log cabins and a way that severs limbs.  About the best one can say is, “Be careful out there!”

2 responses to “The interweb: IA with a low S/N

  • athenaminerva7

    Yes that is true. Good rant. You forget about arpanet if your going to list intial networks. Yes there is now so many networks and technologies this could get rather pedantic and most wouldn’t care.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Yeah, this is really about the change from the internet to the interweb, so ARPANET isn’t really relevant. The early ARPANET was mainly for government and university computer research departments, so most of us never saw it. It wasn’t until the early 1980s, and the internet, that rest of us got online.

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